PPTA president ANGELA ROBERTS says teachers are dismayed to see bulk funding included in the Ministry of Education’s school funding proposals.

Teachers have sounded the warning – bulk funding is coming our way… again.

When I read that Treasury has warned cabinet it doesn’t even know how schools are currently funded, or whether that funding is adequate, it is bewildering to consider that bulk funding (now with the sexy 2016 moniker ‘Global Budget’) could even be on the table.

But on the table it is, as part of a review of school funding ordered by the Minister of Education.

Out of scope of the review is the adequacy of current funding levels, and all changes will be made from within the current budget. We are part of the funding review advisory group and are taking this role very seriously. The results of recommendations made by this group will have a massive and significant impact on the whole sector. That we can’t recommend schools be funded properly makes our task very difficult.

There are aspects of the funding plan that have potential, and we look forward to working on those with the Minister when bulk funding has been taken off the table.

The people who teach our young people want the very best for them. This education funding review is a once in a generation opportunity to get it right, to make sure we resource education so our children and young people get the best teaching and learning.

We know bulk funding will only make things worse. There is no evidence that it would make our education system work better, as the New Zealand Council for Educational Research study into the last time it was tried here shows. In fact, Treasury has said that a global budget would have no short term impact on student achievement. We’d take it further and say that a global budget would negatively impact student achievement.

Why?

A global budget would force schools to make terrible decisions between resources and teachers. Students need more laptops, a school nurse or an additional teacher aide? Simple; cash in a teacher. And research from around the world shows that teachers are what make the difference to student achievement.

Currently, a staffing formula guarantees students have reasonably equitable access to the most important asset of the education system, teaching staff. It ensures schools employ adequate numbers of teachers to deliver the curriculum and provides predictability for planning at a school and national level. With a global budget, that’s out the window.

A global budget could also see class sizes increase or limit the breadth of the curriculum for many schools. We feel for the principals who will have to make the decisions about whether to buy a lawnmower or offer music or art. We need programmes that support our whole diversity of young people. Restricting their learning is something we simply cannot accept.

The Education Council says that it does not support “trade-offs being made by boards … between funding certificated teachers and either unqualified teachers, or other non-teaching resources”. The global budget means exactly this. It is our view that any trade-offs should remain the responsibility of central government, and not be laid at the feet of schools, which have no power to increase the size of the pot. There has been no evidence provided to the funding review advisory group that the sector has asked for this, and the early response makes it clear it is not welcomed.

The advantages will be for the Government’s books, not schools, not teachers and not students.

That’s why over 60,000 teachers are meeting during September. We have never undertaken meetings of this scale before and it was not a decision taken lightly. We know these meetings will put extra pressure on already busy parents but we believe parents, teachers and young people themselves
have a shared interest in getting the right funding to achieve the best
teaching and learning.

Teachers have long been calling for changes to the funding model to address the disparities in student achievement, the pressure that schools are under, and develop a modern, future-focused education system. We didn’t sign up to a review that’s about reducing the Government’s fiscal liabilities, which seems to be the sole benefit of global budget bulk funding.

Ministry’s response

Ministry of Education Deputy Secretary ELLEN MacGREGOR-REID says the funding review isn’t primarily about a global budget.

We’ve heard quite a bit in recent days on concerns about proposals for a ‘global budget’ for schools.

What’s being forgotten in the rush to judge is that the funding review isn’t primarily about a global budget. The education leaders who make up the funding advisory group are grappling with a much bigger question. That question is how the $11 billion that goes on early childhood education and schooling each year can best be provided to support children’s learning.

Let’s rewind to where this all began – with the unhappiness right across education about the decile system. Parents, teachers and principals all know decile-rated funding has flaws. Yes, schools that draw many of their students from low-income communities get more funding. But too often a low decile rating is seen by parents as a sign that this is not a desirable school. What’s more, decile funding isn’t always accurately matched to need.

Now, advances in information technology mean it is possible to explore what a much more finely grained funding system might look like.

While addressing the limitations of the decile system initially spurred this review, it also provided an opportunity to look wider than that.

The challenge that has been set by the Government is to design a funding system that puts the child at the heart of that $11 billion funding. That means focusing funding on learning and achievement, matching funding to the curriculum, aligning funding to the size of the education challenge, and getting the right resources to the right child at the right time.

What does that mean in practice? We don’t have all the answers yet.  We’ve put up the first draft of what we think could work and we’ve been seeking input from education leaders, including representatives from the NZEI and the PPTA, to test these ideas.

We think a good funding system, one based on the child, should be much simpler. So we’re proposing three big ingredients. The decile system would be replaced under these proposals.

The funding proposals that we have been talking to education leaders about have three core elements:

  • A per-child funding amount for schools and ECE service that reflects what is needed to deliver the curriculum to children.
  • An additional amount for children and young people at most risk of educational under-achievement. Here, we want to see if we can replace the decile system with an alternative that gives extra support to our most vulnerable students, without unfairly stigmatising them or their schools.
  • Supplementary funding for small and isolated schools and services to ensure these services are viable.

There are four supporting proposals:

  • A global budget for schools, for better flexibility and simplified administration.
  • Clear expectations and better information on the link between funding and educational outcomes.
  • Separating funding for property-related costs, for more clarity between property and learning costs.
  • A direct link between the private school subsidy and the per-child funding amount provided to state schools.

‘The Minister will use the report from the funding advisory group, and information from regional engagement to help inform a Cabinet paper. Cabinet will determine what the next steps will be.

These are very early days. Any changes won’t be introduced until 2019 at the earliest. There would be several years of testing of any proposals with detailed design work and modelling so that we can see the impact of any changes.

And if there is a decision to progress change, we will continue to work alongside the education sector on the details in the coming years.

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